Turning beekeeping into a conservation incentive

Conservation work is rarely glamorous, but the efforts made every day by IGCP staff in the field, working alongside park authorities or local communities, does at the end of the day (or week in this case) make tangible contributions to the continued existence of mountain gorillas.

This blog outlines the strategic efforts made by IGCP last week in the field. I seek forgiveness from those not interested in the nitty-gritty of conservation, but I feel compelled to write about what we do and why.

As mentioned in the previous blog as to why we’re working with beekeepers in the first place, IGCP is working strategically with beekeepers in order to reduce the threat to the park and to increase livelihoods for local community members. With a new executive committee elected by members of the Union des Apiculteurs de Secteur Mikeno et Nyamulagira (UDASEMINYA or the Union)  last November, the timing was right to re-engage the beekeepers and restructure how we work together.

IGCP staff spent an intensive week forging a formal arrangement with the Union. The IGCP staff members involved include Beda Mwebesa, Coordinator for Conservation Incentives for IGCP based in Kabale, Uganda; Altor Musema, Programme Officer for IGCP based in Goma, DRC; Wellard Makambo, Grants Manager for IGCP based in Kigali, Rwanda; and Abraham N’Simba Ndatabaye a beekeeping and community development expert based in Goma, DRC.

Day 1: Feedback Session and Planning Meeting

IGCP first led an intensive day with the executive committee of UDASEMINYA to discuss the findings of two reports commissioned by IGCP including a situational analysis of UDASEMINYA as well as a market demand analysis for the honey produced by UDASEMINYA. The goal for the day was to merge the findings with their own experiences and then to identify and plan for priority actions.

Beda Mwebesa began the day by engaging the executive committee. Their term within the Union is for a period of three years. What kind of changes do they want to see in the next three years? They first individually wrote their ideas down, then worked in groups, finally sharing and discussing as a group. How would they as an executive committee work to make the changes a reality?

Members of the executive committee brainstorm on ways UDASEMINYA could be improved in the next three years.

Members of the executive committee brainstorm on ways UDASEMINYA could be improved in the next three years.

A large part of the discussion in the afternoon was spent on identifying exactly what is profit and how can the profits by the Union filter efficiently down to the individual members. After a long discussion of how insecurity and conflict had impeded the ability of UDASEMINYA to make profits in the past, Beda reminded the group that even with security most unions or associations similar to UDASEMINYA still fail to turn a profit. This solicited a very productive conversation among the group.

“The day was productive and it is great to see the idea generated and adopted to have UDASEMINYA seek a private partner to help facilitate and distribute the honey to the markets in Goma,” reflected Beda at the end of the day. “This one intervention should help improve profitability of the Union and reduce the burden on any one member.”

The executive committee of UDASEMINYA after a long and productive day of re-thinking the way they work and function.

The executive committee of UDASEMINYA, including Chairman Jean Baptiste Sebakara Habimana (second from right) after a long and productive day.

Day 2: Site Visits and Discussion

The second day of work took us to Kibumba, Ruguri, and Bukima to visit apiaries and discuss directly with beekeepers about the issues on the ground. One of the recurring issues raised was the need of beekeepers to buy land on which to put their hives. We also identified at least one tailor sewing protective headgear at a cost of about 4 USD each.

Beehives nestled on a hill near a stream in Ruguri. Apiaries are kept in small privately owned forested areas outside Virunga National Park.

Beehives nestled on a hill near a stream in Kibumba. Apiaries consisting of five to thirty hives are kept in small privately owned forested areas outside Virunga National Park.

The IGCP team meets with beekeepers in Kibumba, touring severl apiaries found in small forests surrounded by fields of potatoes and carrots.

The IGCP team meets with beekeepers in Kibumba, touring severl apiaries found in small forests surrounded by fields of potatoes and carrots.

The beekeeping association in Ruguri also maintains a tree nursery.

The beekeeping association in Ruguri also maintains a tree nursery.

Beekeepers from Gacoro village discuss the need for alternative land on which to place their hives.

Beekeepers from Gacoro village discuss the need for alternative land on which to place their hives.

The Nzabonimpa family in Bukima offered us fresh corn from their fields during our visit. The family lost their home and apiary at the hands of rebels in 2009 and are working to rebuild both.

The Nzabonimpa family in Bukima offered us fresh corn from their fields during our visit. The family lost their home and apiary at the hands of rebels in 2009 and are working to rebuild both.

Day 3: General Assembly Meeting: Cementing the Link to Conservation

While most of the week was spent identifying ways to make UDASEMINYA function more efficiently and how to address the needs of the beekeepers, the final day’s work was meant to put the conservation logic behind our work into action. The general assembly of UDASEMINYA, made up of five members of each of the seven sectors, met with IGCP staff in Ruguri for a full day of clarifications, priority setting, and action planning.

The IGCP team had spent the week gathering knowledge, observing the situation in the field, listening to beekeepers and brainstorming as a team how best to use beekeeping as a conservation incentive. Beekeeping has to be profitable, and there are clear interventions that we will do and support that we will provide to enable this. Now it was time to also make sure that it matched our “conservation logic.”

The general assembly  first listed the problems associated with beekeeping each within their various sectors. But the IGCP team also had them list the problems associated outside of beekeeping, for their everyday living situation. Interestingly enough, crop raiding by wildlife emerged as a significant issue across the board. Working with the general assembly, the collective group identified ways in which profits from beekeeping could be used in the communities to help mitigate the human-wildlife conflict.

“We came out of the meeting with an agreement on how IGCP is going to work with the beekeepers in the future and how the beekeepers will work to support both the reinforcement of the buffalo wall and the HuGo groups that stop wildlife from raiding crops,” commented Wellard. “With the work we did this week, we can now step back and let UDASEMINYA take the lead in decision-making, pushing the work forward.”

Fruits of the Week’s Efforts

At the end of the week, UDASEMINYA developed an informed business plan as well as a mechanism to loan members money to purchase land for their apiaries. IGCP and UDASEMINYA developed an agreement on the way we will work together and the types of support that IGCP will provide the Union, including training of tailors on the production of protective gear, providing capital for equipment purchases and loans to individual associations to be used to purchase land for apiaries. IGCP has also identified specific “impact groups” which will be monitored over the coming years to monitor the affect of the interventions on both livelihood development and mitigation of human-wildlife conflict.

I invite my colleagues Altor Musema, Wellard Makambo, and Beda Mwebesa to add their own comments and insights to this post. It is my distinct pleasure to work alongside such dedicated conservation professionals.

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